Feds appeal First Nations child welfare ruling, launch talks to settle outside of court

It is estimated about 54,000 children and their families could qualify for compensation

The federal government is going to appeal a ruling that calls for financial compensation for Indigenous children who were removed from their homes.

A federal court upheld the order from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in September that Ottawa pays $40,000 per child as compensation for an underfunded on-reserve child welfare system. The Trudeau Liberals say they want to reach a deal outside of court.

Litigants in the case first brought forward in 2007, say this led to thousands of kids being apprehended from their families and enduring abuse and suffering in provincial foster care systems.

It is estimated about 54,000 children and their families could qualify, which could leave Ottawa on the hook for more than $2 billion in payments.

In a joint statement Friday after the appeal was filed, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller and Justice Minister David Lametti said the parties “have agreed to pause litigation” on the tribunal’s decision.

“We have agreed to sit down immediately and work towards reaching a global resolution by December on outstanding issues that have been the subject of litigation,” the statement said.

“This means that while Canada filed what is known as a protective appeal of the Federal Court decision, the appeal will be on hold and the focus will be squarely on reaching an agreement outside of court and at the table.”

Cindy Blackstock director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society made it clear that a reduction in the compensation is not up for discussion.

National Chief RoseAnne Archibald of the Assembly of First Nations said in a statement that while discouraged by another appeal, “we are encouraged that a deadline will be set to negotiate a settlement on this matter.”

The ministers’ statement added that in addition to fair compensation for those who have been harmed, the government is also committing to significant investments to address long-term reform of First Nations child and family services.

At a news conference Friday evening, Miller said there was no intention to reduce any amounts paid to children who were removed from their homes, but acknowledged those fighting for compensation are skeptical.

“Trust is thin,” he said. “I can’t guarantee success on this, but I can guarantee you we’ll do our utmost.”

Miller said there is no simple answer as to why Ottawa doesn’t just pay victims the money awarded by the tribunal.